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I’m utterly confused (and worried) about the Pixel Fold’s odd design

The mythical Google Pixel foldable has again popped up in a leak, and this time, we get the first realistic look at its design. The leaked renders and video, which come courtesy of @OnLeaks, show us familiar Pixel 7-inspired aesthetics.

We’re looking at a pearl white rear panel with a huge camera bump that rocks a metallic polish, matching that of the surrounding frame. A dark gray or black trim is reportedly cooking up in Google’s design labs as well. On the front is a 5.79-inch screen, while the inner foldable panel measures 7.69-inch across.

Leaked image of the Google Pixel Fold.

The second-gen Tensor chip is said to power the Pixel Fold, coupled with 12GB RAM. Android 13 will handle things on the software side, while the asking price has reportedly been locked at $1,799. What I really love is that this phone appears to be a lot more pocketable, unlike the tall candy bar design of Samsung’s foldable phones.

A rather peculiar design

So far, everything seems fairly normal for Google’s upcoming foldable phone. That’s until you absorb the leaked dimensions and take a good look at the rather stout frame of the Pixel Fold. The leaked dimensions are 158.7 x 139.7 x 5.7mm (8.3mm with the camera bump).

Size comparison of the three foldable phones.
DigitalTrends / Nadeem Sarwar

Google is chasing a design where the width of the inner screen is more than its height. What you get upon opening the Pixel Fold is a proper mini-tablet with a 7.7-inch screen. Hopefully, it’s an OLED panel with some high refresh rate magic. 

In comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 unfolds into a tablet view that is still in portrait orientation. You need to rotate it 90 degrees to get a more natural-feeling horizontal view. On the Oppo Find N, well, its inner display is almost squarish, so there is no rotation hassle.

I am not entirely sure about Google’s design approach and UI optimization. For all its amazing tricks, the split-screen experience on the Galaxy Z Fold 4 still feels somewhat cramped, because each half of the inner foldable panel is a bit narrow for apps to scale properly.

If you’ve tried to get stuff done on the outer cover screen, you know the drill. You have to rotate the device to give apps a slightly wider window for scaling, which feels natural. But it does create a difference in the overall feel and appearance. On the Oppo Find N’s squarish screen, you couldn’t do anything about it.

Alleged render of Google Pixel Fold

It appears that the Pixel Fold is taking Samsung’s approach, but has flipped it sideways. When you unfold it, what you get is a proper tablet-esque screen in horizontal view that’s perfect for watching videos and playing games.

When launching apps in split-screen mode, you will still have enough width in each half for apps to scale properly. Yes, you will lose a bit of vertical space, but at least apps like Twitter and Instagram won’t look like badly scaled cramped messes.    

Just take a look at Twitter running on the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s “normal’ screen and one half of the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s “narrow” foldable screen (below). See how the same Tweet is spread across more lines and takes up more vertical space?

Twitter app running on Galaxy Z Fold 4 and the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Nadeem Sarwar / DigitalTrends

Depending on the scaling versatility coded at the heart of each app, they might look better or worse. Letterboxing is a necessary evil for video-centric apps, while games tend to cut UI elements. For apps like Asana and even Instagram, you don’t want to live with that weird visual experience. Trust me!

Oppo implemented a clever system to avoid the scaling issue. You can run an app in its natural aspect ratio by taking up slightly more width than half of the screen area. The rest of the area is blurred. You can also move the app window toward either edge or keep it centered with blurred pillars on either side. 

Google might take either path; we haven’t really seen a vanilla Android experience run on a foldable phone. One UI 5 has been heavily customized, and from my experience, it is amazing. Oppo also did its fair share of dressing Android 12 with its ColorOS  skin.

App running in its natural aspect ratio on the Oppo Find N.
Running an app in its natural aspect ratio on the Oppo Find N. Nadeem Sarwar / DigitalTrends

Android 12L gave us a taste of what Google wants to do on bigger screens, and Android 13 has continued to build on it. But what I am really interested to see is app-scaling behavior. It would be unwise to say that developers should adjust an app’s scaling behavior for each foldable phone.

That’s because they all have a different aspect ratio for the inner screen. Can Google solve it with some universal resizing approach for all apps at the code level? So far, we haven’t heard any such rumors.

However, it is safe to assume that the two-column view for core Google apps that is currently available on tablets will make its way to the Pixel Fold as well. Microsoft did something similar with its heavily customized Android skin running on the Surface Duo.

What Google has to get right

The Pixel Fold is Google’s first foldable phone, which means the chances of making a few mistakes are extremely high. Then there’s the infamous “Pixel Curse.” Google has really nailed the phone formula with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 series, but they all have had some major issues in the immediate weeks following the launch.

The Honor Magic Vs and the Galaxy Z Fold 4 with open screens.
Honor Magic Vs (from left) and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Assuming Google gets the hardware design and software optimization parts right, we need to take a peek inside. The Tensor G2 inside the Pixel 7 series still has performance throttling and heating issues that plagued the first-gen Tensor system on a chip

Owing to its fundamental design, the Pixel Fold leaves little scope for using fancy thermal-management hardware like a decked-out vapor chamber cooling system. Plus, it would be extremely tricky to nail down the battery efficiency, especially when it needs to power two OLED screens.

Google can create some eye-catching new software tricks that make the best of its larger foldable screen, but the Pixel Fold is a phone at the end of the day. The company can’t just polish over fundamental flaws afflicting the performance and battery life, especially with an asking price of $1,700 a pop.

Nadeem Sarwar
Nadeem is a tech journalist who started reading about cool smartphone tech out of curiosity and soon started writing…
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